Steam and Seduction, Book One
A spy. An airship. And a broken heart.
After losing her husband to a rogue French agent, Charlotte Moncrieffe wants to make her mark in international espionage. And what could be better for recovering secret long-lost documents from the Palais Garnier than her stealth dirigible, Gossamer Wing? Her spymaster father has one condition: He won’t send her to Paris without an ironclad cover.
Dexter Hardison prefers inventing to politics, but his title as Makesmith Baron and his formidable skills make him an ideal husband-imposter for Charlotte. And the unorthodox undercover arrangement would help him in his own field of discovery.
But from Charlotte and Dexter’s marriage of convenience comes a distraction—a passion that complicates an increasingly dangerous mission. For Charlotte, however, the thought of losing Dexter also opens her heart to a thrilling new future of love and adventure.
Excerpt from Gossamer Wing
In which we see Charlotte’s version of a Jedi hand wave, and Dexter being all supportive and admiring her at work.
“We’re fortunate enough to be at our leisure here, with no particular deadline for our return. The climate is quite pleasant, and I gather Lady Hardison has a great deal of shopping still to do. Apparently there are substantial qualitative differences between the shopping opportunities in Paris and those in New York.”
Dubois’s smarmy smile made Dexter glad for Murcheson’s restraining hand. Something about the man made him want to cuff him sharply on the side of the head.
“We must meet then, during your long stay. Discuss business? I believe we may have some mutual acquaintances. Other than Monsieur Murcheson, of course.”
“Ah. Well, no promises, old chap. My schedule is already rather full and after all, it is my honeymoon.” Dexter tried as hard as he could to inject the suggestion that even to ask had been wildly inappropriate of Dubois; he suspected he didn’t do it nearly as well as Murcheson could have, how- ever. Perhaps he had just spent too long working to shed that aristocratic demeanor. Or perhaps he just wasn’t cut out for spying.
Charlotte, however, obviously was. Her headache-inducing persona was firmly back in place as she reattached herself to his arm like a limpet. Murcheson had advised her to appear as harmless and as brainless as she possibly could to divert any suspicion Dubois might have about her real purpose for visiting France, on the off chance Coeur de Fer hadn’t already spoiled that angle for her.
“Dexter,” she pouted, “you’re not talking business at the opera, are you? Oh, hello there.”
“My wife, Lady Hardison. Monsieur Dubois,” said Dexter.
Instead of taking Charlotte’s hand in the polite lady’s version of a handshake she was obviously offering, Dubois pulled her gloved fingers to his lips and kissed them as though he relished the act.
Charlotte’s other hand dug into Dexter’s arm like a claw, but her facial expression never flickered.
“Ooo, how continental!” she simpered at Dubois. “So charming!”
“Your husband says you are enjoying Paris. Perhaps he and I can meet one day while you are occupied in enriching the city’s coffers, non?”
“Oh!” Charlotte cried with a giggle at the end, “No, actually! Isn’t that funny, you said non meaning doesn’t that sound nice, but my response actually was no! It’s our honeymoon, you see. I’m afraid he couldn’t possibly. I simply can’t spare him!”
“Well, it wouldn’t have to be a long meeting, cupcake,” Dexter said thoughtfully, just to watch her at work a little longer.
Somehow, Charlotte managed to keep smiling and simpering as she began flaying him with tiny verbal knives. “You’ve taken such a great many meetings with Mr. Murcheson already, darling. One might almost think you weren’t on your honeymoon at all. Isn’t that so silly? If you spend too much time on all your business I’m liable to forget it’s our honeymoon too, and then where will we be?”
Certainly not in the same bed, she somehow managed to imply. Her eyelashes seemed to have grown half an inch or so, expressly for the purpose of batting. Had he been a henpecked husband in truth, Dexter thought he might be in serious trouble. “Of course, darling, but as we’re in Europa anyway and the opportunity to meet with—”
“Ah!” Charlotte said, a dainty little cry of distress. Her fingers pressed to her temple in a tasteful display of genteel agony.
“Lady Hardison, are you quite well?” Murcheson asked, leaning in like a considerate grandfather.
“Oh dear. I’m terribly sorry. I’m suddenly feeling quite overcome!”
“Darling, perhaps we should return to the hotel.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what we ought to do,” Charlotte agreed. She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead, as though she might faint at any minute.
Dexter caught a lapse on Murcheson’s part; the man couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the swooning bride. For his part he was struck by the utter absurdity, all of them standing there pretending they didn’t know what the others were about. It was not just theatre, it was farce. Suddenly he was sick to death of the whole ridiculous thing.
“You must take my car,” Murcheson offered. “Plenty of time in the second act for my driver to see you home and return for me.”
“Oh, how very kind,” Charlotte said, drooping picturesquely against Dexter’s arm.
“Do you think that wise?” Dubois said suddenly. Dexter looked at him sharply. He seemed unduly agitated, and was hiding it badly; his face was decidedly pale and damp. “Should we not summon a doctor here for the lady if she is ill?”
“Nonsense.” Dexter put an arm around Charlotte’s waist, taking shameless advantage of the feigned illness to press her inappropriately close. His interest in her, at least, was genuine. And the sooner they were back at the hotel, the better. “A bit of fresh air and quiet, a few minutes out of the crush, and the lady will be right as rain. Won’t you, my love?”
“If you think so, husband,” Charlotte answered with a breathless earnestness. “You always know best.”
Murcheson suffered a sudden coughing fit, and Dexter sneezed in a way that strongly resembled a stifled snort of laughter.
The chimes sounded the approaching end of the interval, drawing the crowd back into the house. With a last frantic glare at Murcheson and Dexter, Dubois departed reluctantly to return to his seat as the two men half-carried Charlotte out the door.
“Overdoing it a tad at the end, don’t you think, my fruit-bedecked meringue?” Dexter teased Charlotte once the coast was clear.
“Shameless,” Murcheson agreed, hailing his driver from the middle of the rank of waiting steam cars.
“It was either that or slap him…”
©2013 Delphine Dryden; all rights reserved Berkley Publishing. Please do not reproduce in whole or in part without express permission from the author or publisher.